Thursday, 5 July 2007

And so it begins. Stepfamily life.

The triangle

My husband and I have been in our relationship for four years, we have been married for nearly three. I entered fresh, excited and ready to make a new life, leaving behind one failed marriage, and found myself in a triangle instead. My Husband, myself and his ex wife. This other woman simply refuses to move on or at least accept that her ex husband has moved on, and I feel helpless.

When we first became a couple, I knew he had a daughter, he knew I had children too, but we could deal with that as we accepted each others situation. We talked in length how we were going to help each other raise our respective children as we were going to treat them as ours, not yours and mine facing any impending issues the children may bring together.
This would serve to be the first mistake on my part. His child was not mine and if any help in raising my husbands daughter was going to be done, it would be his ex wife and him. She would clearly see to that.
I was happy, ignorantly thinking, that life was going to be great. I already had two children so I knew how to be a parent, even though I say so myself, they are great children so having an additional sister was not going to be a problem for them. My husband's daughter was a happy little girl with a wonderful smile; perfectly sociable so would interact quite happily with my own children.

What I forgot to take into account was his ex wife, my stepdaughter's mother, and I would become a potential threat to her motherhood. It appears ridiculous as I think back now, as my husband was forced to accept his ex wife's judgement of her new partner, its a pity she couldn't show her ex husband the same common courtesy.

It is competing with an ex wife or not such an invisible enemy and realising that my suspicions are not always ridiculous and absurd. I believe his first wife cannot let go of my husband, and tries to insinuate her way into our marriage through their child or unnecessary contact and I have to manage the antagonistic ex and accept her presence in our relationship while she tries to manipulate my husband through their daughter. All in my head? Maybe.

Hopefully our marriage will make it, because if my husband and I are soul mates, and I truly believe that we are, we can adopt the attitude that this marriage, our partnership, is the one that will only ever matter and our previous relationships should become insignificant. We both share the same values regarding our children and our outlook on life is very similar, unlike our previous relationships.

Many couple's second marriages unfortunately end in divorce, the top five reasons being;

1.Confusion over responsibilities for the children or where loyalties and priorities are supposed to lie.
2. My favourite, ex wives or ex partners and their quest for control.
3. Finding Mr Right, or perhaps not as they don't exist. The grass is never greener on the other side.
4. Ease of divorce the second time because you've been there, done that and got the well worn t-shirt.. Couples are less likely to forgive and more likely to throw in the towel. (Or the well worn t-shirt)
5.Money and finances

I suppose in our relationship, I have struggled with the first two. Unbalance of children, constant conflict they unknowingly cause alongside trying to understand and accept that a child behaves in a certain way because it is the way they have been raised. It doesn't matter how much I thought my stepdaughter's mother was doing it wrong it was her way of doing things. Another divorce under my belt is not a comforting thought and, at times, I have been ready to throw in the towel, wave the white flag, as I know my husband himself has thought too.

This is not because the problems are with each other, but caused by this triangle and an ex wife who simply has to be involved or control our life via her child. Should I concede to this feeling of intrusion and accept having to share my husband, for a life of uncomplicated solitude?
The immense love and adoration I feel for him, is clouded by the overwhelming feeling of helplessness having his ex wife be part of my life and having to allow it. Would it be easier to live without him rather than accept he has a past and unfortunately his ex wife is part of it? No. He is a wonderful father and a fantastic father figure for my own children, so would it be fair to take them away from him? Would it be fair for our own daughter we have together to experience the pain and loss of not seeing her daddy everyday, and the loss of her family as does his first child? Above all that, I would miss my husband, my best friend and the love of my life.

Advice and inspiration for coping with these emotionally exhausting, and at times traumatic, situations are not enough and are of little comfort or encouragement, as it seems to be a continual uphill struggle to suppress my feelings so they don't get the better of me every time. Trying to find the positives when your mind is awash with the negatives is helpless. Having the second wife/step mother doom and gloom and desperately needing to hear a small voice of reasoning, to assure me that no, I have not lost the plot, I am not being unreasonable, even if they appear selfish and one sided, and my feelings are normal.

I have been thrown a life-line all the same. I recently joined a group of stepmother's themselves experiencing the very same issues I have with my husbands ex wife. It seems this is a common problem when becoming involved with a man who has children, the ex controlling contact or generally making a nuisance of herself.
It is embracing an attitude that any marriage needs work, especially a blended family. Some just gaily tick along with little or no effort injected, however, being part of this stepfamily unit needs much work and effort due to the problems that are already in place, an ex partner or an un cooperative child.

The problems go beyond the triangle of my husband and his first wife. I feel the in laws remain loyal to his ex wife too, and at times they have meddled in my new relationship, especially where my stepdaughter is concerned. Despite all the hurdles and potholes face, I struggle on, but I do wonder why both my mother and sister in law, insist on having a photograph on the wall of my husband and his brother at my husbands first wedding. Yes it is a nice photograph of the two of them smartly dressed in top hat and tails. So why can't I see it just as that, rather than a trinket of my Husbands first marriage and thinking how insensitive it is?

In laws and out laws

When my husband initially introduced me to his family I liked his mother very much consequently we became close incredibly quickly and yes, behind every potential new partner is a mother they'd like to keep safely locked away! It was a dangerous liaison my husband had commented. The danger was, could I confide in her as a friend or as my stepdaughter’s grandmother? It was finding the fine line. She talked about my husbands ex wife on several occasions and explained, on first meeting her, between herself and my husband's stepfather, they both thought, "the woman should have been born with balls!" My husbands ex wife seemed a very competitive woman and my husband had always suspected her resentment towards him concerning his career as his was much more successful career than hers.

Occasionally I would look to my mother-in-law for support when I became faced with trivial and minor difficulties concerning my stepdaughter. I honestly thought that as her grandmother, she knew her granddaughter well enough, certainly better than myself, that she could offer some much needed and welcome advice, but instead she conveyed her distaste to my husband as she didn't think she should have to listen to me whinging about her granddaughter all of the time! This is how she interpreted asking for much needed help and support. Whinging!

She persuaded my own daughter to call her Grandma. It was heart-rending, as after moving, my daughter saw little of her natural grandparents, and missed her own Nanny very much, so my mother in law sought for my daughter to feel welcome into the family. There were a few instances I felt her own grandchild, my stepdaughter, was favoured over my daughter. A natural reaction, I accept that, but my stepdaughter set off crying to her grandma, suggesting that my daughter had pinched her and wasn't being very nice to her. This was something very out of character for my daughter as she isn't a spiteful or nasty child, on the contrary. I know she can be a little bossy but she certainly doesn't bully to get her own way, she is a friendly accommodating child and I am proud of her for this quality.

It later transpired that my stepdaughter had actually pinched my daughter first which both my mother-in-law and sister-in law were witness too, but obviously was overlooked. It did upset me as my sister-in-law has once remarked that she needed to keep a close eye on my stepdaughter when playing with her own children as she could be quite spiteful when she didn't get her own way. My own daughter has told me that when they are playing together, if she doesn't let my stepdaughter have her own way, she has been threatened with, "I'm going to tell my daddy of you. He's MY daddy and he will do what I say." Who is being the bully here my ten-year-old daughter or my stepdaughter at six?

When my husband's ex wife fell pregnant to her new partner, all we heard from my mother in law was when was the baby due? Was the baby born yet? It became tiresome. We really didn't care what his ex wife was doing, so how could we answer these repetitive questions? My husband's mother then focused the questions onto her granddaughter, my stepdaughter. It was a constant sea of interest about his ex wife's activities and movements. We weren't interested in chitchat about his ex wife, but for his mother, she was a hot topic.

Trying to get her to understand that his ex wife was of no consequence to us and that my husband could do without constant reminders about a woman who made his life a misery and who was now, very much a part of his past. A past that he had left behind and had no intentions of reliving on a day to day basis.

There were subtle comments regarding how she saw less of her grand daughter now that I had become part of my husband's life. She had told me that everything had changed since I moved in. My husband had spent most weekends at his mothers when he was on his own so her assistance lending a hand with his young daughter was very welcoming, he would never deny that. She was a huge help to him, but suddenly I was helping him with his daughter, so understandably she was feeling a little left out. What my husband never anticipated was being held to ransom for the rest of his life for turning to his family when he needed their support the most. Eventually he was going to come through the other side and find someone to share the rest of his life with, so the situation was always going to change at some point.

She tried to cause arguments between my husband and myself by suggesting to him that I was "saying certain things" to her. Mostly bringing up the conversation of his ex wife and then suggesting it was myself who had started the conversation. What she had not anticipated is that my husband and I discuss and tell each other everything withholding no secrets. I believe she is jealous of our relationship because we are so close, something her own relationship lacked. She would openly admit her marriage was empty so I assume gossip and chitchat was the only excitement she had. Some people need confrontation in their life to relieve the monotony.

My husband's brother and partner have three children. They decided to get married late summer 2003. It would be a small, non-family wedding, just themselves and a few witnesses, an intimate occasion without the family politics. We were not offended at all not being invited. It was their day after all and we wished them all the best. This is how my husband and I eventually married, the same intimate occasion with a few friends, it was the best day of my life! My mother-in-law added her comments to their arrangements and their plans were immediately turned upside down, altering their small intimate gathering into a larger family affair at which we were added to the guest list.

Obviously this was going to include my step daughter, but the problem was the wedding was at lunch time on the Saturday, and my step daughter wasn't with us until 6.30pm that evening, so asking the favour of having his daughter early would mean his ex wife would want a favour returned, we thought the easiest solution to avoid all the hassle, would be for my brother in law and his future wife, to send an invitation directly to my stepdaughter's mother. That way she could accept or refuse the invitation and my husband could avoid asking to alter our weekend arrangements, for his ex wife to change the next ten weekends or so, as she was accustomed to doing. Returning the favour was her way of putting it.

On the receipt of the wedding invitation, it was to request the company of my husband and myself. My daughter was not invited. It had been discussed that as their niece, my stepdaughter, wouldn't be able to come, they didn't think it would be fair to invite my daughter; after all she wasn't anything to do with them really was she? My husband's brother had also told him that he didn't want his niece looking through their wedding photos in the future and to notice my daughter there but not herself.

A strange statement as would my stepdaughter know any different?. I believe my mother-in-law has suggested if her own granddaughter was going to be absent from the wedding then she certainly didn't want my daughter there either.
I was terribly upset by this. I was supposed to be part of their family along with my daughter, but now they wanted to exclude her. How am I supposed to explain this to her as she is already excited about a new dress. I took the decision that as my daughter was going to be excluded, I wouldn't be present at the wedding either, but I hoped this was not going to deter my husband from attending.

A few days later we were invited over to my mother in laws and my husband had asked that I not bring up the topic of the wedding in conversation which I agreed. A decision had been made and I certainly didn't want to talk about it, especially with her. I was suffering with a nasty headache and all afternoon my mother in law kept on at me. Was I ok? How was I feeling? I was obviously still upset with the decision but on my husband's request, refused to mention it. My mother-in-law kept on and on, little suggestions and comments about the wedding as she could see I was bothered by something, so continued enticing me into a discussion.

In the end I passed comment on the way the situation had been handled and my obvious upset. This led to a heated argument. We were stood in her living room, her warning me that if I didn't go to the wedding then my husband, her son, would not go either. I retorted that he was old enough and responsible enough to make his own decisions, so I would be encouraging him to attend, as it was for his brother. Each time I tried to walk past her to put an end to the confrontation she shifted her direction blocking my path, so I requested she let me pass as I was now desperate to leave. My husband was in the back garden chatting with his stepfather therefore, completely unaware of the situation taking place inside the house.

After trying to pass her for the last time, she put her hands on my shoulders to stop me so I screamed for her to allow me to leave. My husband rushed into the house from the garden asking what all the yelling was about. I wanted to go home, so distracted by her new audience I was able to push past his mother and head outside and wait for my husband to follow. When he eventually came out he said that his mother had insinuated I repeatedly brought up the topic of the wedding up in conversation and it was me who wouldn't let it drop. I couldn't believe it. His mother had been partial to gossip amongst the family and anything she gossiped about was always worded in a manner that someone else had said it so somebody else could take the blame. There was an awful lot of " he said she said" in her topic of conversation.

Even though there has still been tension between my husband and his mother, we endeavoured to lay the past disagreement to rest. My stepdaughter was approaching her birthday and planned to celebrate it on the Sunday simply the four of us, my husband, myself, my daughter and my stepdaughter, and take her bowling. My mother-in-law was extremely put out by this as she assumed we were going to spend the day with her and she would lay on a birthday tea. To try and salvage his deteriorating relationship with his mother, we agreed to change our plans and allow her to lay on the tea.

My husband called her to arrange this, but immediately was drawn into a discussion over where her other grandchildren, my brother-in-law's children's invitation to my stepdaughter's party was? As my husband angrily put down the telephone receiver, I received a text from his mother on my mobile phone. It simply read congratulations! What was I being congratulated for? I assumed the implication was I had finally turned her son against him and he was now acting in the way I was instructing him.
My husband wrote a letter to his mother as follows:

14th October 2004

Despite trying to explain things on numerous occasions and getting nowhere, I feel the only option I have left is to write. I am finally waving the white flag as I really cannot take any more as whenever I have contact with you, all I get is twenty questions about how I should be running my life, how bad I am at it and how badly done by you seem to be.
I called you the other day to try and do the right thing and arrange to bring your grandchild to see you on her birthday (at the expense of my own plans.) All I got in return was, "where is the invitation from my granddaughter, inviting her cousins to her party?"

You seem to think my wife is behind everything I do and say that she has "issues" with my daughter and my ex wife. This seems to make it convenient for you to blame her for everything and I am at a loss to know where you keep getting these notions from. My wife has nothing to do with this so can I ask for the last time to stop coming to your own conclusions and blame her for everything. Only you know the hidden meaning behind comments like "everything changed when you moved up." or the "congratulations" text you sent to her. Yes you are right things have changed and I apologise for leaning on you for support when I was alone and looking after my daughter, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for me all the same.
Maybe I was wrong in bringing my daughter to visit you every weekend, but I do not want to be held to ransom for the rest of my life for turning to my family when I needed them the most. Eventually I was going to come through the other side and find someone to share my life with, so things were always going to change at some point. Nevertheless, comments like these are very hurtful, unfair and have now proved damaging.

As my daughters father I decide what happens where she is concerned, not you, my wife or anyone else, something everyone seems to forget but are happy to give an opinion on. Any decisions I make are for the good of MY daughter and not for you to simply think how this is going to affect you and your time with her. For example it was me that decided my daughter was better off with her mother when she started school as I felt it was better for her not to have to go back and forth between mine and her mothers house whilst she's at school. The fact that my ex wife decided (without consulting me) to send her to a school conveniently located to her, left me with no option to be honest as my wife was unable to get her own daughter and my daughter to different schools that started and finished at similar times, but this was neither my or my wife's doing. When we were together our local primary school was quite acceptable at the time which is one of the reasons my wife's daughter attends (thinking my daughter would go there too) But as usual my ex wife does what the hell she likes and I am supposed to fit in with whatever she decides.

And mum, you should know, the mother always gets to do what she wants and the dad is left high and dry with no say whatsoever! So all my wife has ever done is support me when I have challenged my ex wife on things like this in the past.
Continuingly asking about my ex wife and how she lives her life is of no consequence to me the only role she plays in my life is she is my daughter's mother and unfortunately that means I have to have contact with her if I am to see my daughter. Other than this, I really couldn't care less if she fell off the face of the Earth. I don't think I can make it any clearer than that.

Something else that continues to hurt is why do you wait until I'm out of earshot to tell my wife you were thinking of going over my head and get in touch with my ex wife to arrange to see my daughter. Why do you insist on saying these things to my wife and not me. It isn't fair as she feels bullied and targeted as the reason things have changed. Not only that but you are riding roughshod over me to ensure you get what you want, without a care for how your interference will affect me. You need to understand that as far as my ex wife is concerned, my family do not exist anymore and unfortunately that includes you my brother, his wife and their children. This means if my ex wife arranges anything for her daughter (including birthday parties) You WON'T be invited. I am not invited and I'm her dad! Just like me, she has a new partner in her life that she wants to include in everything she does (including our daughter's birthday parties)

You also need to know what a bitch my ex wife has turned into. We went through a lot of upset with her when she started dictating terms of when and how I saw my daughter, changing arrangements weekly and generally messing everyone about most of all our daughter. This doesn't affect you it affects me and my family, and I struggled with her for months to get back to a routine that I was in control of instead of living my life to fit in with hers. So contrary to your opinions, I am not scared of my ex wife or unwilling to approach her if I believe my daughters well being is affected and this means invites from my family to my daughter to parties and weddings too. But I was never consulted or given the option was I? All this was decided for me as how things were going to be.

Unfortunately you don't see the hurt you have caused my wife and her daughter. My wife gave up everything to be with me, and her daughter is desperate to belong, having left everything she knows 200 miles away. Coming from a broken family myself, I know how she feels. Rightly or wrongly I am quite ashamed to say how embarrassed I am of my family right now in treating my wife and her daughter the way you have. Especially, when all I did before they moved here was reassure them that the family problems she left behind could soon be put behind her when she became part of a new family here. I was her knight in shining armour offering her the chance to start a new life with a new family. hasn't worked out that way though has it?

You have put me in the middle of impossible situations on numerous occasions and I am tired of it. I just want to be able to get on with living a happy life supposedly with my family around me, but I fear any chance of this now happening has been destroyed by past events. I hope you can take on board everything I have said as I am not taking sides or judging anyone for what may or may not have happened. I just need you and everyone else to accept my situation, respect it for what it is and the difficulties it entails for all of
us and try to be happy for me.
Your son x

My mother in law has now however, contacted my husbands ex wife to arrange contact to see her grand daughter as we no longer visit her. I can accept that as she still has a grandchild she wishes to remain in contact with, but in my opinion, it is not simply to remain in her granddaughter’s life. My stepdaughter is the only route of contact with my husband and our life, which still remains a constant topic of conversation for his mother.

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